Is Britain’s decision to exit the EU good news or bad for progressives in Canada and the rest of the world?
Those of us on the left have long opposed so-called free trade agreements. We fought the good fight against Brian Mulroney’s NAFTA and we are opposed, with good reason, to the Trans-Pacific Partnership currently on the table. Some people are therefore suggesting that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and the subsequent withdrawal from European trade agreements means the tide is turning in our favour. I fundamentally disagree.
I’m sad to say that the prime motivator for the leave campaign in Britain was not a critical analysis of trade agreements. Instead, it was based on racism, xenophobia, nationalism and a host of other very negative factors.
I do believe, however, there’s a big lesson for us progressives to learn from the British referendum. We must be ever-vigilant within our movement to absolutely prevent the kind of opposition to corporate trade agreements that’s founded on gaining oxygen from the ugly head of racism that, unfortunately, lurks just below the surface in some corners of the anti-corporate trade movement.
You see, we have a very strong argument to make against corporate trade agreements — these so-called free trade agreements — in that they are much more in the vein of corporate bills of rights than free trade. These agreements are built in such a way they remove and/or eliminate the ability of governments to make use of health, safety, and environmental regulations. So they’re not really about free trade per se — that is, lowering or eliminating tariffs — but rather clearing away the health, safety and environmental regulations we’ve fought so long and so hard to achieve.